Edinburgh - the "Inspiring Capital"
Having a "brand identity" and a slogan is de rigeur these days for any organisation trying to sell its wares - and even capital cities have to look to their laurels these days. So the City of Edinburgh has spent £800,000 with a London agency researching and developing a visual identity. Nobody can deny that it's simple - three arching lines of varying length and the words "Edinburgh - the Inspiring Capital." The lines may represent the arches of the Forth Rail Bridge or the undulations of Arthur's Seat, or maybe the three hills forming the castle, Calton Hill and Salisbury Crags. Nobody seems quite sure. The London advertising agency which designed the brand said the "lines of influence" shown above the word Edinburgh in the logo were there to create "a sense of the energy and direction of the past, present and future ambitions of the city". Far from being inspired, people interviewed by the local Edinburgh evening newspaper were very much "underwhelmed". Some thought it looked like an advert for a golf driving range. The negative reaction is somewhat similar to that generated last year by the introduction of "Glasgow - Scotland with Style" 50 miles further west. The new brand has its own Web site - see www.edinburghbrand.com.
Big Chief Jack McConnell
The Scottish First Minister, Jack McConnell, was formally made Chief of the Blantyre Mission in Malawi this week during a visit to the African country. The First Minister, on a five-day tour, says he is keen for Scotland to provide self-sustaining help in Malawi and is to announce a central fund-raising drive to combat poverty in one of the poorest parts of the continent. During his visit it was announced that Scotland is to help Malawi train more teachers and the First Minister arrived in the country with the first consignment of text books for Malawi schools. McConnell will be putting pressure (along with the UK government) on world leaders at the G8 summit at Gleneagles Hotel in July to mount an all-out effort to reduce poverty, particularly in Africa.
Happy Hour Banned
1,500 bars across Scotland (out of 5,100 licensed premises in the country) have called a halt to "happy hour" promotions in which the cost of alcohol is reduced. The ban is aimed at cutting binge drinking and the resulting anti-social behaviour. Legislation has been passed in the Scottish Parliament which would have the same effect, but that does not come into force until next year. Most of the large pub chains are members of the British Beer and Pub Association which is introducing the ban across the UK.
Checking the Pulse of Doctors
Statistics on how well (or not) general practitioners (GPs) are performing in relation to a series of twenty targets introduced by the Scottish Executive were published this week. Doctors say that the figures should be accompanied by a "health warning" as a number of elements in the success or otherwise of health centres and doctors are not capable of being measured. Individual practices may also be suffering from staff shortages when the survey is being carried out - though long-term trends should iron out such anomalies. There is no doubt that the targets and the points system have prompted surgeries across the country to gear up on action such as blood pressure tests and inviting (insisting, in some cases!) patients to attend asthma clinics. The hope is that, in the longer term, illnesses will be identified at an earlier stage, leading to less pressure on the hospital services and reducing chronic illness. Overall, surgeries achieved an average score of 92.5%, with 22 gaining maximum points. But 15 practices received under 70%, which must be a bit worrying for their patients although it was pointed out that marks can be lost on such things as record keeping and IT systems while single doctor practices in remote areas may struggle to meet some of the criteria.
Scotland Back on the Map in BBC Weather Forecasts
The storm of complaints and deep depression prompted by the new 3D weather maps introduced by the BBC forecasters on 16 May has at last produced a reaction from the corporation. They have agreed to change the tilt of the map to rectify the prominence given to the south of England - and the way that Scotland and the north of England became very much reduced in size. The new maps will be implemented this weekend - the illustration shows the original tilted map on the left and the new one on the right (with Scotland covered in cloud - not the fault of the BBC). 4,000 people contacted the BBC to complain - and newspapers were full of articles and readers' letters criticising the new computerised system. But the BBC is adamant that the colours (shades of brown for areas in sunshine and blue for areas with rain) will stay as they give "clarity". And they have not responded to complaints that the presentation was "dumbing down" with the removal of information such as isobars and wind speeds. The new system was the biggest change in 20 years to the way the BBC present the weather. It's just a pity that the BBC can't improve the Scottish weather as easily as they updated that map....
BBC Scotland Staff Support Strike Action
This week a number of flagship news and current affairs programmes on the BBC were cancelled or severely curtailed as a result of strike action by journalists. They were protesting at planned staff cuts of more than 4,000 across the UK. In Scotland, the strike was supported more strongly than elsewhere in the UK, prompted no doubt by the threat of 200 staff facing the axe. All reporters, all programme editors, all programme producers and all broadcast and senior broadcast journalists refused to cross the picket lines and overall 65% of staff did not report for work. Good Morning Scotland on radio and Newsnight Scotland on TV was cancelled while Reporting Scotland was reduced to five minutes. Later in the week, the staff unions called off further strike action lasting 48 hours which had been scheduled for next week. They said that the management had made "fresh commitments" that included a one-year moratorium on compulsory redundances.
End For Edinburgh's Ugliest Building?
The former Scottish Office building next to the St James Centre shopping mall has been regarded by many as the ugliest building in Edinburgh ever since it was built, 30 years ago. In a city renowned as the "Athens of the North" and a recognised World Heritage site, it is remarkable that the building, reminiscent of an East European communist HQ, was allowed to be built in the first place. Now Edinburgh City Council has drawn up plans for St James House (formerly New St Andrew's House) in an effort to see its demolition and redevelopment. Even an extension to the St James Centre shopping complex (not a particularly good example of the genre) is seen as preferable to what is there at the moment. A few years ago, the Royal Bank of Scotland (which now has a long-term lease on the building) was heading towards demolition and creating a new world headquarters. But that plan foundered and the bank is nearing completion of a new building in a green-field site near Edinburgh airport. The City Council is hoping to kick-start a number of developments in the capital in an attempt to reclaim its status as a top UK retail destination.
Support for St Andrew's Day Bank Holiday
A bill submitted to the Scottish Parliament, proposing that St Andrew's Day (30 November) should be designated a public holiday, has received support from 76 Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) representing all parties and a number of independents. But an extra day off work would cost government departments alone £40 million in staff costs. Employers across Scotland have voiced their concerns at the cost of an additional holiday, although retailers are said to be enthusiastic as their sales on bank holidays usually soar. As with other bank holidays, staff would not have a legal right to a day off and that would be subject to negotiation between trade unions and employers. Jack McConnell, the Scottish First Minister, is said to be "unconvinced" about the merits of the proposal, but support from Labour and Liberal Democrat MSPs might give the private members' bill a chance of reaching the statute book, even if the government do not give it any backing.
Worst Postal Service in UK
Royal Mail, which provides the postal services across the UK, may have returned to profit (£537 million last year instead of losses of £750 million a few years ago) and be rewarding staff with bonuses of over £1,000. But the company failed to meet its delivery targets in 10 out of 13 postcode areas in Scotland, the worst result in the whole of the UK. Across Scotland, only 90.5% of first-class letters were delivered the following day, falling short of the target figure of 92.5%. The worst area was Glasgow, where only 88.8% of letters and packages arrived on time. While the company can claim that geography is a significant factor in some remote parts of the country, that certainly does not apply to a compact city such as Glasgow. Postal charges went up (again) earlier this year but the company claims that the "quality of service is the best for a decade." Next year, the market to provide a postal service in the UK will become fully open to competition and the efforts by the Royal Mail to improve the quality of service is being driven with that in mind.
Scotland No Longer Rubbish at Recycling
After languishing at the foot of the heap of European countries on the amount of domestic waste being recycled, Scotland has climbed above England, Greece and Portugal. Just under 19% of such refuse was recycled in January to March 2005. In 2002/03 Scotland only recycled 9.6% of its municipal waste - the rest went into land-fill sites. The Scottish Executive has allocated £230 million to local authorities to boost recycling schemes and now many households have been provided with green bins for garden waste and plastic boxes for paper, cans and plastic which are collected from the kerbside. 70% of houses in Scotland now have access to such schemes. The government has set a recycling target of 25% by the end of next year and are confident of achieving this. The amount going to landfill sites in Scotland has nearly halved from 14 million tonnes in 1997 to 7.88 million tonnes in 2003. But Scotland and the UK have a lot of work to do before they can match some European countries - Austria recycles over 64% of household waste and Belgium 52%.
Refurbishment for Tay Road Bridge
The 1.4 mile long road bridge across the river Tay estuary from Dundee to Fife is to be refurbished over the next two years at a cost of £16 million. The bridge opened in 1966 - and cost £6 million to build. Although there will inevitably be lane closures (there are two lanes in each direction) it is expected that the crossing will remain fully functional while the work progresses. The Tay Road Bridge carries over 8 million vehicles a year.
Scottish Power Sells Loss-Making US Division
After a long struggle to convince US regulators that they would be able to maintain and improve the service to customers, utility giant Scottish Power bought the US electricity generating and supply company PacifiCorp in 1999 for around $10 billion. PacifiCorp is the largest power company in the American West, with 1.6 million customers in an area of about 136,000 square miles in seven states - Oregon, Washington, Montana, Idaho, Utah, California and Wyoming. But the US subsidiary has not performed as the Glasgow-based company had hoped and this week they announced its sale to US energy firm MidAmerican for $9.4 billion. Scottish Power says that around half of the sum realised will be returned to shareholders, sending the share price up by over 6%. However, the stock market experts are now suggesting that Scottish Power is itself ripe for a takeover attempt by another power company.
Praise for Scotland from Lonely Planet
Previous editions of the Lonely Planet tourist guidebooks have been somewhat uncomplimentary about many aspects of Scotland. In 2002 it described Edinburgh as "marred by problems with drugs and prostitutes" and Glasgow as "prone to periodic eruptions of sectarian football violence". East Kilbride was said to be "the last place on earth anyone would want to visit." But the latest edition is full of lavish praise, with favourable comparisons to Italy. Clearly the editors have been talking to real tourists. Glasgow is now "synonymous with style and chic" and Edinburgh is "one of the most loveable and liveable cities on the planet" while Aberdeen has an "excellent, boisterous nightlife." However, Fife is written off as "home to Edinburgh commuters" - clearly on that one the Lonely Planet reviewer did not travel far from the banks of the river Forth - the illustration is of the coastal village of Elie in the East Neuk of Fife.
Expats Fight for Pensions Increase
The House of Lords issued a judgement this week which means that over 500,000 pensioners who now live outside of the UK will not have their UK state pensions increased by the rate of inflation. Only those who continue to live in the UK or have retired to the US or the European Union will receive such an increase. Those who have moved to most Commonwealth countries have their pension entitlement fixed at the point they become entitled to the pension (usually 60 for a woman and 65 for a man). The test case which had been put to the law lords has been turned down, with the judgement saying that subsequent inflation increases were only payable to expatriates of countries with a reciprocal treaty arrangement with the UK. But the legal battle is not yet over - the case will now go to the European Court of Human Rights. Pensioners who paid into the scheme while they worked in Britain feel that they are being cheated. However, the law lords say that the law is quite clear and they reject that any human rights have been violated.
Glasgow Tower To Re-Open
The 400 feet high Glasgow Tower, which opened in October 2001, has been closed to visitors for much of the last 3½ years. The tower, which rotates along its entire length, provides spectacular views of Glasgow from an observation pod at the top. It shut again in January this year after ten people were trapped in the lifts and were only rescued by firemen after five hours. But the Glasgow Science Centre has announced that it will re-open the visitor attraction at the end of June, in time for the school summer holiday break over July and August. Whether it manages to remain open, without developing further problems, remains to be seen.
Equality Blows Women Off Course
The number of women who are members of golf clubs has declined significantly over the last few years as golf clubs have implemented equal rights for women - but increased the charges to the same level as men. The Ladies' Golf Union has seen its membership decline by nearly 1,500 between 2002 and 2004 with another 660 resigning in the last 12 months. There are now nearly 200,000 registered male club golfers in Scotland but under 35,000 women players. Up until a few years ago, many clubs had reduced fees for lady members (sometimes only half of the full amount) but they had reduced access to the course and no voting rights. A move to removing such discrimination has been accompanied in many cases by a leveling of the fees. Many women are now opting for "pay and play" at golf courses rather than becoming members.
Nature Reserve Expands
Over 3,000 acres of Highland Perthshire were added to the Ben Lawers national nature reserve this week when it was officially recognised as part of the existing reserve, creating a total of 10,000 acres covering Ben Lawers and the Tarmachan mountain ranges. Scottish Natural Heritage and the National Trust for Scotland have been working together in managing the reserve, which is rated as one of the top ten conservation sites in the UK. Ben Lawers is botanically one of the richest mountains in Britain with a diverse range of arctic-alpine species and vegetation. It also provides a home for many upland hill birds. It is a European Special Area of Conservation and a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
4X4 Overtake Executive Cars
You might think that with all those high-earning executives working in Edinburgh's financial services industry that plush executive cars would be the norm. But according to figures published this week by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, sales of 4-wheel-drive "off-road" vehicles were more popular in the capital than anywhere else in the UK. 7.82% (over 14,000) of all 4X4 vehicles in the UK were sold in Edinburgh. Of course, most of the 1.2 million 4X4 vehicles on Britain's roads don't stray from the main highways and the cities and towns - many are used by wives on the "school run". The vehicles are despised by environmental groups as they guzzle lots of fuel just to move the large amount of metal while pedestrians hit by such vehicles are twice as likely to die than those struck by a saloon car.
Tourists Flock to Seabird Centre
The Scottish Seabird Centre at North Berwick has just celebrated its fifth birthday and is soaring to new heights after welcoming nearly a million visitors since it opened. The centre has live video-cams on islands off-shore from the Scottish coast and visitors can control the zooming and panning of the cameras to focus on areas of particular interest. There are plans to instal similar technology under-water later this year to capture the arrival of seals as they come ashore to give birth to their pups on some of the islands. The huge Bass Rock is the summer home to 100,000 gannets and there are 150,000 puffins on the Isle of May and on Findra. After the gannets depart for over-wintering in Africa, 3,000 seals arrive on the Isle of May and the fluffy pups are a great crowd-pleaser. Eco-tourism is seen as a growth area in many parts of Scotland and North Berwick has made a name for itself in this field. The centre was built on the site of an open-air swimming pool and in Scotland's unreliable climate, the Seabird Centre is definitely a winner. The centre was the brainchild of a local ornithologist - who is now working on a Scottish Ornithology Centre at an inland location, which will focus on the many wild birds found in that part of Scotland. See also Places to Visit - Scottish Seabird Centre.
£800,000 Grant to Save Butterflies
A grant of £800,000 has been made to Butterfly Scotland by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to maintain and improve the habitats of threatened species of butterflies. Because of changes in agriculture, urban and industrial development and changes to forestry management, many species of UK butterflies are now extinct in England and Wales and can only be found in Scotland. Scotland is now regarded as a "critical stronghold" of many species. The pearl-bordered fritillary, marsh fritillary and chequered skipper are now more numerous in Scotland than anywhere else in Britain. But even here, some species are under threat and so SNH has increased its usual grant from £260,000 to £800,000 for the next three years. This will be used to run more research and monitoring and promote butterfly tourism for naturalists and photographers. Land managers will be advised on how to protect and encourage species by creating woodland clearings and changing grazing patterns.
Millie the Dinosaur Broken Up
Despite a campaign by students and others, the Hunterian Museum at Glasgow University has chopped up the popular sculpture of the Jurassic Tyrannosaurus Rex and is to mount her head inside the museum. The 14ft high replica was installed in the grounds outside to advertise a "Walking With Dinosaurs" exhibition in 2000 and became a tourist attraction, outliving the exhibition. But the cost of repairs due to damage caused by vandalism have soared and the university can no longer afford the drain on its limited resources. An attempt to dismantle the statue was initially thwarted by a student demonstration but workmen secretly arrived early on Tuesday morning and demolished the 46 feet long monster, preserving only the fiercesome head.
Weather in Scotland This Week
After a mild and sunny start to the week with temperatures reaching 16C (61F) in Glasgow, the thermometer struggled to reach 10C (50F) on Wednesday. On that day, the Meteorological Office issued a "weather warning" as heavy rain swept across the west of the country. The deluge and the strong winds resulted in an electricity blackout in the centre of Glasgow affecting shops and offices as well as traffic lights. Power was restored after about an hour. The downpour also resulted in one of Scotland's biggest agricultural shows being cancelled. The one-day Drymen Show did not live up to its name as it was called off for the fourth time in five years as flood water overflowed a river near the site not far from Loch Lomond.
On Thursday, temperatures climbed to 19C (66F) in Aberdeen and 17C (63F) in Edinburgh and there were long spells of sunshine, particularly in the east. On Friday, however, it was back to 10/11C (50/52F) across most of the country, with frequent showers as well. It was a different story in the south of England where the May Bank Holiday got off to a blistering start on Friday with temperatures soaring to 31C (88F), the hottest May day for over 50 years.
The pictures taken this week to illustrate the current season in Scotland show first of all a modern, mult-coloured broom at Ross Priory on the banks of Loch Lomond. The estate was open as part of the Scottish Gardens Open Day scheme in aid of charity.
The young coot being fed by its parents was seen at Drumpellier Country Park in North Lanarkshire. There are a number of families of coots with young chicks and the aggressive parents fight off any coots that try to invade "their" territory.
Hawthorn (or crataegus to give it its proper name) usually has white flowers but this variety growing in the walled garden of Wemyss Castle in Fife is the even more attractive red variety.
This beautiful iris was growing beside a pond in the walled garden of Wemyss Castle in Fife. Wemyss Castle grounds are only open to the public one day a week, during the summer months.
Cambo Estate in north Fife has a large collection of different varieties of lilac growing in a row at the top of the walled garden. At the end of May the blossom on some of them was beginning to show signs of turning brown. As can be seen, there were bright blue skies when the photo was taken on Thursday.